[-empyre-] glitch device/divide

Rosa Menkman rosa_menkman at hotmail.com
Wed Dec 14 07:58:33 EST 2011

On Dec 12, 2011, at 8:21 PM, Julian Oliver wrote:
I prefer 'limiting' (or at least retaining) a glitch to be an unexpected, outcomes from any System we have designed. This is the beautiful thing about, glitch! Those systems may indeed be social,  economic or political,  borrowed from, the original German term later adopted by electrical engineers. 


When you describe the glitch as "an unexpected outcome from any System we have designed", I wonder who experiences this unexpected occurence; who do you believe perceives this outcome and who gets "the right" to call something glitch (art); the programmer (curator?), user (artist), the viewer (the audience), …. 
Taking a glitch to the context of art, seems to adds many different perspectives to this!
Maybe the contextualization of the specific experience of glitch is per work of glitch art very important; the description of a specific work of glitch art might (have to) take these  different perspectives into account?

The fatal manner of glitch, its orientation towards the destruction of what is, can present a problem to those who want to describe old and new culture as a continuum of different discrete practices. One way to deal with this problem is to repeatedly coin new terms and concepts to make room for splinter practices within the expanding media cultural field. An abundance of designations such as databending, datamoshing and circuitbending have come into existence to name and bracket varieties of glitch practices, but all in fact refer to similar practices of breaking flows or systems within different technologies or platforms. 

While technological glitch is primarily a process of shock requiring knowledge, investigation and cognition, glitch art is best described as a collection of forms and events that oscillate between extremes: the fragile, technologically-based moment(um) of a material break, the conceptual or techno-cultural investigation of breakages, and the accepted and standardized commodity that a glitch can (or maybe inevitably will?) become. To encapsulate a whole range of unstable processes and sometimes almost contradictory intentions of glitch artists, it is useful to consider glitch art as a genre. In thinking about a genre that encompasses both the most rebellious (dunʞ?) and the most stable or commoditized works of glitch, the first question arises to me, is whether there can even be any common denominator in these works. 

Is glitch describable as a genre? What does saying ‘glitch is a genre’ actually say?

To consider glitch art as a genre is to emphasize that genres are social and consensus-based constructs, rather than definitive categories. [[Rick Altman, Film/Genre, London: British Film Institute, 1999.]] Steve Neale has suggested that genres are best understood as processes:

The process-like nature of genres manifests itself as an interaction between three levels: the level of expectation, the level of the generic corpus, and the level of the ‘rules’ or ‘norms’ that govern both. […] the elements and conventions of a genre are always in play rather than being, simply re-played; and any generic corpus is always being expanded. [[Steve Neale, ‘The Question Of Genre’, Screen, vol. 31.1 (1990): pp.45-66. p.56.]]

While genres are always ‘in play’, they also - by definition - have some sort of organized and perceived unity. This unity models both how a viewer perceives any work in the genre and how she comes to associate new works within it. Mary Ann Doane suggests that ‘the unity of a genre is generally attributed to consistent patterns in thematic content, iconography, and narrative structure’. In glitch art, this ‘thematic content’ can be found within the work’s language and design, while iconographic and narrative themes are positioned within glitch art’s investment in the rupture of procedures and technique, the break from a flow or the void of meaning in the social understanding and the esthetical references. [[Mary Ann Doane, The Desire to Desire: The Woman’s Film of the 1940s, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1987. p.34.]]

To call glitch a genre means to suggest that it is intelligible as a tendency: to exploit medium-reflexivity and to take on the rhetorical questioning of the perfect use and function of technologies, their conventions and expectations. Paradoxically then, out of its instantiation in error and breakages, Glitch art can, through its play with conventions and expectations, be described as a genre that fulfills certain expectations. This reflexive approach to materiality in glitch tends to, as Katherine Hayles would assert, re-conceptualize materiality itself as ‘the interplay between a text’s physical characteristics and its signifying strategies’. Rather than suggesting media materiality as fixed in physicality, Hayles’ re-definition is useful because it 

opens the possibility of considering texts as embodied entities while still maintaining a central focus on interpretation. In this view of materiality, it is not merely an inert collection of physical properties but a dynamic quality that emerges from the interplay between the text as a physical artifact, its conceptual content, and the interpretive activities of readers and writers. [[N. Katherine Hayles, ‘Printisflat, code is deep : The importance of media-specific analysis’, Poetics Today 25, no.1 (2004): pp. 67-90.]]

Glitch genres perform reflections on materiality not just on a technological level, but also by playing off the physical medium and its non-physical, interpretative or conceptual characteristics. To understand a work from the genre of glitch art completely, each level of this notion of (glitch) materiality should be studied: the text as a physical artifact, its conceptual content, and the interpretive activities of artists, programmers, curators, audiences et al.. 

The genre of glitch art draws heavily upon spectator literacy (references to media technology texts, aesthetics and machinic processes) as well as on knowledge of more ‘conventional’ canons of media-reflexive modern art. Accordingly, glitch work prompts the spectator to engage not only with complex themes, but also with complex subcultural and meta-cultural narratives or gestures, presenting considerable cognitive challenges. Users do not consume but instead become prosumers, active participants in a culture invested in constant re-definition. 

Sometimes I feel that maybe any kind of punks/sdunʞ, digital or otherwise, are doomed to be only the fore-runners of a culture that is always looking for "the new marginals". Moreover, our guilty cultures are afraid of calling anything "the Other" or "glitch", and this is why we go so deep into describing or even gentrifying different utterances into categorizational relations, to the point where all these utterances or "Other forms" move from the glitchy lines of flight into bug reports; named and described, finally ready to make it to the next Absolute Vodka campaign.
Is it a bad thing? Or is this the machine that fumes "the peoples inspirations" and that constantly provides us with "new" waves to ride, (our personal choice is only to sit closer or further away from this industrial exhaust). 

A glitch will never be the same after its tipping point. The moment(um) always diffuses on the beaches it rocks and its waves will go on, as they leave the ripplets that give the texture (or reason) to our beach experience. 

Finally, a personal remark: I normally avoid the divide between analog / digital systems, or discrete and continuous - one of the reasons why I got captured by glitch art was because of its power to blur (these) and any other binary differentiations (A very technical example: the exploitation of the SID chip and the glitchy sounds this can give  - for instance by Goto80; who exploits the analog filters on the "digital" SID chip). 

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